It all began in 1973. Russ Rak, newly married and only 22 years old, was working as a custodian for Portland Public Schools. On one day there was a locksmith there at the school, where Russ was working, doing some lock work on a door. Russ, who always wanted to learn a trade, took interest and approached the locksmith with all kinds of questions. The locksmith then offered Russ the opportunity to come work for him as an apprentice. Russ quit his job at the school district that very day and went to work for this locksmith at a shop in Portland called B & H Locksmith.
In 1974, after showing real skill in locksmithing, the locksmith who took Russ under his wing had a new exciting business proposal. There was a brand new Fred Meyer just built in Longview, Washington. At the time, Fred Meyer’s had a practice of leasing out space in their parking lots to small locksmith shops. The locksmith running B & H Locksmith jumped on that before any other locksmith could and asked Russ to move to Longview and run that shop for him.
Accepting that offer, Russ and his bride moved to Longview to run the shop known as Key Hole Locksmith. Under Russ’s care, Key Hole was doing very well, but Russ wanted to have more control over prices, products, and services. So in 1976, he purchased the inventory of Key Hole from the B & H Locksmith who owned it and paid this gentlemen a monthly fee to do business under the Key Hole name and location. While Key Hole was still owned by this other gentlemen, for all intents and purposes, the business was Russ's.
Building a strong clientele, Key Hole became busy enough that Russ needed help. In 1980, Russ hired a certain red headed, 19 year old kid named Corey Strand. Together, Russ and Corey ran Key Hole, building the business even more. Becoming quite profitable, the locksmith from Portland who technically owned Key Hole, decided to significantly raise the monthly fee for Russ. Russ found this increase unacceptable so that in 1982, Russ parted ways with Key Hole. Taking his clientele that he built with him and in direct competition, Russ started his own mobile locksmith business called Mobile Lock. Corey, an employee of Key Hole, had to stay back.
Mobile Lock, Russ’s very own business, was unsurprisingly doing very well. Key Hole on the other hand, now with few clients and missing Russ’s skill and entrepreneurship, started to decline. Corey, was laid off, but not for long. In 1983, Russ was able to grow his business further and have his very own locksmith shop built and placed in the parking lot of the Triangle Mall, bringing Corey back on with him.
He named it, Keys R Us Locksmiths. Keys R Us was built by a local carpenter named Harold Wood. It was only 200 sq feet, no bathroom, but offered a brilliant drive through key cutting service for which it became famous for.
It wasn’t too long before a certain giant toy company got wind of the name Keys R Us… and, they were not amused. Apparently feeling threatened by a 200 square foot little locksmith shop located on the other side of the country, their corporate lawyers located in New York sent a cease and desist letter to Russ demanding he change the name immediately. Knowing there was no way to win, Russ dropped the name Keys R Us, and a new name was established. In 1985, Keys Plus, Inc., doing business as Keys Plus Locksmiths, was incorporated.
Russ outgrew his little 200 square foot bathroom-less building in 1995 and moved 200 yards to the end space next to the Triangle Bowl. Keys Plus lost its iconic drive up window, but gained a bathroom at last!
However, after only being in that space for 10 years, Keys Plus yet again outgrew its space, so Russ had a large shop built from the ground up, just on the other side of the bowling alley on 9th Ave. With an attractive show room, a cozy lounge area, a friendly reception desk, a huge fully equipped working shop area, and TWO bathrooms, Russ’s dream shop became a reality in 2005. This is where you’ll find Keys Plus today.
In early 2012, just 11 months after his wife succumbed to cancer, Russ passed away after his own short battle with the disease. During those months leading up to his death, Russ put in place a succession plan. He would leave the business, his legacy, his life’s work, in its entirety, to his daughter Tabitha.
In a solemn tone, Tabitha reflects, “Taking over my dad’s company has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It supports an amazing and dedicated staff, serves the community of Cowlitz County like no other locksmith in town can, and continues the legacy my dad worked over half his life for.”
In 2022 Keys Plus Locksmiths, under the leadership of Tabitha, celebrated 40 years of serving the communities of Cowlitz County and beyond.
Not only has their service area expanded, but so has its services and products. Locksmith shops have come and gone, but Keys Plus continues to thrive and grow, and outlast them all.
“We’re just getting started.” Said Tabitha. Who then followed up with a message to that giant toy company from so long ago, “Eat your heart out.” ❤️